16 October 2021

What Do Three Stars Mean?

Photo by DDP on Unsplash
I got my beta reading reports from Independent Book Review earlier this month, and I've sat on them for about ten days or so, trying to process them. 

They had pages and pages of compliments, yay! But the critical parts of their reports threw me for a loop, with contradictions that make me unsure of what changes I should implement. I know I can't please everyone, and based on the reports I got, I think it's showing me how impossible it is to, given how each reader had very different tastes and often the opposite opinions. 

Overall I was very happy with the reports despite still being confused about what to do, and I plan on using the service in the future for other books. But I'm still trying to work my way through everything that was said, and the largest one is that my book, which I thought was finished, is not. 

The clearest indicator of that is the rating they used--the most popular method, the five-star rating system. They explained that the rating they gave my manuscript reflects what they thought if the book were to be published today. My scores: 3, 3.5, and 3. 

It felt like a slap in the face, especially after all of the glowing commentary I'd received. Why did they say such positive things about my book if it was only worth three stars to them? I thought for certain I'd handed them a four-star book at least, and that it was ready to go. 

Three stars is only one star less than four, yet the difference between them seems so huge. Why did I have such a strong negative reaction to three stars?  What do three stars mean?  

I thought I'd reflect but also do a little bit of digging into whether or not three stars is a negative review.

My initial thoughts: Three stars is in the middle, therefore three stars is average, or a C. Not bad, but not good; just meh. And in a world where everything is competing for your attention, why would you spend money on something that isn't going to wow you? Who signs up for so-so? This is why I thought 3 stars was a bad rating. 

Let's see what the rest of the internet says. 

Author Teyla Rachel Branton, like me, compared the star rating to letter grades in her blog post, and refers to the three-star rating as the "kiss of death." She writes, 

3 stars is a C or a C-. So only average or NEUTRAL. You neither liked it or disliked it. This really is the kiss of death rating. The “okay” novel. If you give a novel this rating, there should be SERIOUS issues because, remember, many advertisers won’t accept novels with this overall rating. So the 3-star novel should be one you didn’t feel compelled to finish, or one whose overall plot didn’t quite make sense (and you feel wouldn’t make sense to others). This is a novel that you wouldn’t recommend unless it was the only thing someone had to read and they were stuck in an airport for two hours.

This kind of aligns with my own thoughts about the three stars! This is why my star rating hurt me, because after I got the compliments that I did, and was told that I had a really strong manuscript and that I was a talented writer, I wondered why I didn't score higher. Most of the issues the beta readers brought up were valid, but I didn't think it would lower the score so much. This is what indicated to me that the book needs more work than I anticipated, and admittedly brought me down a bit. 

Author Duncan Ralston did an unofficial Facebook survey asking whether three stars was a good review, and the majority of participants marked it as a positive, followed up by the next most-popular response, neutral. From his comments, he discovered,

Most people agreed that a 3SR [3 star rating] meant the reader liked the book but it wasn't stellar. Something might have been lacking, or the reader may have been expecting a different book entirely than what they got. There seemed to be a general consensus that if a book is 3 stars across the boards it is likely mediocre.

 That phrase, "mediocre," really stings! 

And yet, despite these interpretations that align with what I think three stars to be, there are other people out there who say that three stars is good. 

Brenna Clarke Gray over at BookRiot wrote a whole article titled "The Truth: A Three-Star Review is Not a Bad Review."Gray assures us that it's not so much that the book is mediocre, but satisfactory. Here's what she says about three stars from her point of view:

  • this book was totally fine
  • I didn’t hate reading this book
  • at no point did I regret purchasing this book
  • some things in this book were good, and other things were not
  • generally, the good outweighed the bad, but not so much that I forgot the bad bits
  • there’s nothing terribly wrong with this book
  • there’s nothing terribly outstanding about this book
  • this is a book that other people will probably also not regret reading
  • if I knew someone who liked this kind of book, I would tell them to maybe read this one
  • I will probably read the next thing this author writes

The majority of these points are positive! But the ones stuck in my mind are "nothing terribly outstanding about this book" and "generally the good outweighed the bad, but not so much that I forgot the bad bits." I want people to think my book is outstanding, and I don't want people to remember bad things about it, so, by Gray's explanation, I would still consider a 3 a negative review. 

Other book bloggers who have their own ratings systems tend to consider threes good ratings, with their own explanations. 

Victoria Papers at Paper and Vices argues that three stars is a good review, and her specific breakdown says,

Three Stars –

Solid book. Good plot, interesting characters/dialogue. Would consider recommending it. Decent editing and worldbuilding. Possibly some things that took me out of the narrative a few times, but overall an enjoyable read. I Will likely read the next installment if in a series, or look at the author’s other/future work. Possibly worthy of a re-read when the mood strikes. This is a good rating.

Of course, my eyes focus on the "possibly some things that took me out of the narrative." There seems to be a pattern here where I can't accept anything positive and only hone in on the negative! 

Girl Plus Books offers a specific breakdown of three stars in "Discussion: The Curse of the Three Star Review,"

•This book was totally fine.
• I didn't dislike this book.
• I don't regret reading this book.
• Some things in this book were good, some were not.
• The good outweighed the bad and there is nothing terribly wrong with it.
• Maybe other readers would enjoy this more than me.
• I would recommend it to readers who enjoy the tropes/themes it employs.

This makes me feel a little bit better, but again, I can't help but bear in mind that this score notes that there were still bad things in the book to prevent the score from being higher, even though there isn't anything "terribly wrong." 

Éimhear at A Little Haze Book Blog goes into further detail about what merits a three-star score.   

Reasons for a book getting three stars from me will include one or two of the following:
  • too many stereotyped characters
  • a bland ending that fell too safely into the realm of well-worn tropes
  • writing that was a little perfunctory rather than lyrical
  • overtly obvious attempts to create a plot twist that never surprises
  • an initial book in a series that serves only as a means to sell the subsequent book instead of truly focusing on having its own solid storyline. Note this does not mean cliffhanger endings.
One or two of these issues together is really not that damning and thusly means that I will very much have enjoyed the book.

Based on my feedback from the beta readers, I don't think my book suffers from these specific issues, but they're still something to bear in mind when I consider what to revise in my book. 

Annemieke at A Dance with Books writes that "a 3 star rating might not be stellar but it certainly gets a passing grade" and adds that:

Often to me 3 star reads are either:

  1. Books that I had high expectations of that were not met
  2. Books that were not for me character or plot wise but still well written that I can other see [sic] really liking.
  3. I enjoyed reading it but it did not stand out.

Lastly, Rosie Amber writes about the star reviews on her website, breaking down the Amazon Star Rating system versus Goodreads. According to Amazon, three stars means "it's ok" while on Goodreads it means "liked it." That's a little confusing seeing as how Amazon owns Goodreads, so there's no consistency there, but whatever. 

It looks like that the constant thread among all of these reviews is that three means "passable," "satisfactory," "average," "mediocre," but also that there were things to like about the book. 

I did walk out of my beta reading experience feeling like everyone did like the book, but there are issues keeping it from reaching its full potential, and that's probably where the threes came from. 

I have a lot of work to do if I want to meet my goal of putting out a four-star book. 

Please wish me luck!


Readers, what do three stars mean to you? 

10 October 2021

The YA Fantasy Reading Project: Aug. - Sep. 2021

Greetings, friends. 

I'm sad to report I didn't get much reading done during this two-month period. I was busy reading a friend's book that was a bit of a whopper in size (558 pages!!) and at first thought it might be YA and I could count it, but it's not. It's a traditional coming-of-age high fantasy.  

So, after just wrapping my friend's book, I realized on the last day of September that I hadn't gotten through any YA novels during this period, so in a panic, I reached out for one at the last second. I finished it the next day, but the next day was October, and usually I don't count books in my reading project until I finish them. 

However, I'm going to go ahead and count this book as part of my September reads just so I have something here to post! 

And the other caveat, is technically it's not fantasy. It's a YA horror novel, and there's no magic in the story, but it's filled with ghosts. Horror is often called dark fantasy so I just figure I'd give myself a little leeway to count this as a YA read. Plus, it was excellent and I couldn't put it down, so I thought I had to spread it on the blog for people to see. 

I read Ryan Douglass's novel The Taking of Jake Livingston. It had been on my list for a long time just on the basis of the cover, which definitely pulled me in and let me know we're dealing with spooky things. 

So, technically not fantasy. Definitely horror. But...here we are, and I want to share it. Check it out! 

I hope for the next two months I get caught up and read a lot more YA fantasy so I can share the good books I've been reading with all of you. 

Thanks for stopping by!

05 October 2021

#auswrites - October

Source: Twitter

Confession: I saw this on Twitter but I have no idea what the #auswrites handle is referring to or what it stands for. I’m supposed to do this on Twitter every few days I guess, but I just thought it would be a nifty idea for a blog post instead, so here we are. 

What genres do you usually read? 

I primarily read fantasy and horror, and as of late, it’s mostly been YA fantasy. I also continue to read comics and manga in these genres, as well as BL webcomics through Lezhin, Manta, and Tappytoon, among other apps. 

What genres do you write? 

I write fantasy. I originally thought it was going to be adult fantasy, but I’ve discovered and accepted through comments from my fellow writers that I seem to be more suited towards YA, so I’ve decided to embrace that and fully commit myself to writing YA fantasy. Maybe I’ll do some NA too, but so far, YA is where it’s at. 

As much as I would love to write horror, I haven’t cracked how to do that, let alone have been able to envision a straight horror plot. I used to call myself a fantasy and horror writer, but have since dropped that part of my bio since I haven’t produced anything in the genre. Maybe someday in the future I will! 

How much planning do you do before you write a book? 

Characters are usually who I envision before I come up with a plot. The plotting itself is a nightmare. It’s been very difficult. I started using Novel Factory software to try and put together some kind of plot before drafting so usually I’ll fill their template out first…and then completely destroy it while writing. Based on how my last book went, I seem to do a lot of extensive thinking and preparation while I write the manuscript; not beforehand. It’s very much a write-pause-think pattern of creation. I got a book out of it, but it certainly was not an efficient process. 

Write a tweet-length story with your childhood toys as characters. 

No thanks. Short stories and micro/flash fiction are just too hard for me. 

Your new work has just become a bestseller! How will you celebrate? 

I would love to throw a small get-together with my closest friends but that’s not realistic. So what I’d probably end up doing is exploding over social media about it and live in a state of bliss where nothing registers in my brain except for the news of being a bestseller. Then after the glow has dimmed a little, I’ll find out what that means financially and work on a budget towards the next book. I don’t expect to make a living, as awesome that would be, but I would love for the publication of one book to be able to finance the next one. 

Show and tell: an ornament in your home. 

I’m guessing “ornament” has a loose meaning here, so I’m going to focus on my Japanese festival masks. I’ve got a kitsune mask and a tengu mask. I probably should’ve gotten the traditional white kitsune mask but I’d never seen a black one before and I thought it was gorgeous, so I snatched it up. I got the kitsune mask at Amanoiwato Shrine in Takachiho, Miyazaki, and the tengu mask at Izumo Taisha Shrine in Izumo, Shimane. The kitsune and tengu are famous creatures from Japanese folktales and mythology, and since I love myth and legends, I thought they were a great purchase. My head’s too big to wear them, but as you can see, they look great on my wall. 

Is there a specific time of day you write?

For the longest time I wrote late into the night (like 3am!), but the older I’ve gotten, the harder that is for me to do. I also seem to only write on weekends now, based on my work schedule. I may start writing on my computer around noon or so, maybe earlier (but no earlier than ten) and spend many hours on the pc with breaks. I try not to be on the computer past nine at night now. So…I just do marathon writing sessions on Saturdays and Sundays when possible. 

Share a photo of yourself from the past. 

This picture is from 2012 or 2013, I think? I’m cosplaying at Colossalcon in Sandusky (as a female Gankutsuou/Count of Monte Cristo) and the camera person was unavailable at the booth so voice actor Ian Sinclair took this selfie of us. It’s one of my favorite pics with a guest ever. 

What do you look for when you edit your own work?

There’s far too much to look for, and far too much I miss. But one thing’s for certain—I repeat myself all the time. I try to look for duplicate words as well as an overreliance on certain kinds of punctuation (I have a tendency to use ellipses and em dashes all the time). I try to replace repeated words where I can and cut down overused punctuation styles. I’m a fan of semicolons too, and sometimes I have to go back and just make things into separate sentences. Of course, I still miss when I have repetition, so I will always need another set of eyes on my work to catch these sorts of mistakes! 

Write a tweet-length story which incorporates romance. 

I plead the 5th!

A movie you loved that we probably never heard of. 

Oh, wow…this is kind of hard! But I’ve got one—there’s an old anime film that I grew up watching that I’m sure nobody remembers, and it’s called Sea Prince and the Fire Child. It’s sort of a Romeo and Juliet tale and I remember it made me really sad, but I also liked it because I thought it was a sweet love story. I don’t know if the anime is from the late 70s or 80s, but it definitely has a vintage look to it.

What has made you stop reading a book before you finished? 

If there are errors in the book…more than just an occasional typo. Every book has one or two typos, even though editors have combed the words closely, so I can let a couple slide. But when it’s excessive, I want to stop. Unfortunately, I've seen my fair share of books that were published without a proper copy edit.

Problematic terms (like “brute” or “exotic” for a POC) or cavalier mentioning of mental illnesses (casually calling someone “bipolar” as an insult, for example) makes me pause or quit--it depends on the context and how it’s used, but more often than not, there’s no justification for it and it’s lazy writing. 

Pace and voice also make me quit reading, too, if I find issues with them. I usually will stop reading a book if it takes an effort to wade through a text because the pace is a slog with not enough happening, or the narrative voice gets on my nerves. 

I DNF frequently. Life’s too short to read books that aren’t appealing. 

What is a challenge you want to overcome in your own writing?

I’ve got two of them. The largest one is to overcome my inadequacies with plot. I just have the hardest time giving my characters enough to do to move things forward, and to have all of what they do be relevant and with purpose. I frequently feel like I have no idea what I’m doing as I write, and I generate so much work for myself in the drafting stages as I try to figure things out. 

The other challenge is with romance. I am not a romance writer or reader, but I love it when there are love stories in fiction. I want to root for couples being together and I love relationships that blossom along the way. As a reader I do find relationships hard to believe, though, so it often takes a lot of convincing from the writer for me to accept a couple’s relationship as organic and “real.” Because I’m so critical as a reader, I’m even more critical of myself as a writer. I doubt my ability to write relationships so, so much. I’m always worried that it doesn’t come off as natural, or that the relationship is built on a shaky foundation where people can’t accept the relationship as legitimate. I will probably always have some sort of romantic aspect in my books, but I’ll always be afraid that they won’t be authentic enough. I’d like to get over this and write believable romance. 

Show and tell: what do you collect?

Since I’m in Japan I collect omamori, the amulets that they sell at shrines. I think the fabric and embroidery on them are beautiful, and each shrine has their own unique prayer amulet. I like to think that I am supporting the shrine while getting some good vibes from the kami

As you can see, I also collect little anime goods from gacha machines or from anime shops like the Jump Shop or Animate. I’ve made what I call my little wall shrine that celebrates the things I love about Japan – shrines and temples, and anime. 

Share the opening line of one of your works. 

“Late on the night of Lirien’s eighteenth birthday, his father walked into the sea.”  -- Son of the Siren

Do you believe in ghosts? 

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I do. I’ve seen something freaky growing up that had absolutely no rational explanation to it; everything about it was unreal, and I could only think of calling it a ghost or spirit because that was the best fit for it at the time.  It still is the only way I can think of to describe it.